Towards the end of August I will be one of a number of our people joining emergency services leaders from all over the world at this year’s AFAC conference in Melbourne. Some are going as presenters, others as attendees, but all are there to share and learn.

Commonly referred to as “AFAC”, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council is made up of around 40 emergency response agencies from our two countries.

Being a member of AFAC gives us access to the collective knowledge of these agencies. Sharing lessons learnt, research and procurement programmes, access to project information, and joint operational and training standards is of immeasurable benefit to a small country like New Zealand.

Key event for the fire and emergency sector

AFAC’s annual conference is a key professional event for our sector. Everyone attending will get insights or contacts that will be valuable for their role and projects. The presentations are always wide-ranging and focus on addressing issues and developments of interest to all member agencies.

Our work at Fire and Emergency is valued by other AFAC members, so I’m delighted that six Fire and Emergency people are delivering four presentations at the conference:

  • Jon Kneebone: Encourage, maintain and strengthen the capability of volunteers
  • Rochelle Martin and Zoe Mounsey: Building the evidence base to increase diversity in firefighter recruitment
  • Dr Rowena Brown and Catherine Coe: Respect and inclusion: Positive change at FENZ
  • Trent Fearnley: Vocational pathway to becoming fire professionals – How did New Zealand do it.

A further three people are presenting a more summarised version of their work, with an accompanying poster, at the AFAC19 Expo.

  • Dan Wilton: Applying design thinking to Introduce a new Type 3 Appliance
  • Trudy Geoghegan: What constitutes evidence in a fake-news world - and how do you ensure you get the good stuff
  • Zoe Mounsey: Building research use capability in FENZ.

On a personal level, I’m also looking forward to connecting with other organisations who have experiences that we can draw from, and sharing information on common problems that we each have partial answers to.

Focus on diversity, inclusion and change

The theme of this year’s conference is “A shift to the new norm: riding the wave of change”. It reflects the shared challenges our sector is working through, particularly about how we become more diverse and inclusive, and how we empower communities to be more resilient and better prepared for emergencies.

Fire and Emergency will be making a strong—and very vocal—statement about inclusion from the very start of the conference.

It is customary for the conference to open with an official Welcome to Country by an Aboriginal elder, followed by a soloist from each country singing their national anthem.

This year, however, it won’t be one soloist singing the New Zealand national anthem, but a choir of Fire and Emergency personnel. They will be welcomed onto the stage with a karanga and sing the national anthem in Te Reo and English. I anticipate this will be a very proud moment.

Board membership

I’ll be attending the conference as CE for Fire and Emergency, but also as a member of the AFAC Board, a role I’ve held since October last year.

The 40 emergency response agencies form a Council that governs how AFAC operates. A smaller Board of up to nine Council members oversees the work and policies for Council approval. I am one of those Board members.

I am also Chair of the Research Committee, one of several sub committees set up to provide advice to the Board and Council. This is a new sub-committee established to provide better coordination, and therefore better use of research funding by AFAC, both collectively and by individual agencies. We’re currently focused on identifying where current research investment occurs and any gaps or overlaps.

Sharing new knowledge from this conference

Those representing Fire and Emergency at this conference expect to learn a lot. Therefore, I’m asking attendees to report back on their experiences and what they’ve learned to their colleagues and projects on their return.

We have a lot to share, as well as a lot to learn.

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